“A buck and two random acts of kindness.”
“Two random what?” I ask, thinking maybe he’d said two random patchy wild ones.
He’s wrapping wet newspaper around the small diameter of stems, rubber banding the bouquet. “Two random acts of kindness,” he clarifies. “The size of the smile on you, it shouldn’t be hard to pass along.”
He cuts his conversation back to the couple looking over the spread of flowers under the shade of the farmer’s market booth, explaining why what we’re oohing and ahhing over, and shelling out greenbacks for, are often classified as weeds:
“A weed is any plant that’s growing where someone doesn’t want it. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad plant. Nobody thinks of lupine as a weed, but it’s been considered one before. And weeds are the hardiest, toughest flowers and grasses, with the brightest colors. I can promise you any of these flowers, except this one and maybe this one, will last seven to ten days, as long as you treat it right. Don’t put it in water you wouldn’t drink yourself. And even this one, it’ll shed its petals in a few days, but look what it leaves behind–it’s still architecturally interesting.” He’s fingering a blown bud, round and taut, with a kiss of daddy-long-legsy spindles exploding from its center in perfect right angles.
His treasure is on display in dozens of jars, vases, and buckets set on folding tables or right on the ground. Each is loaded with a single variety of grass, reed, or bloom. He points, drops Latin names, common names, tendencies, talents, casually expert about his charges.
No, I no longer think of flowers as a bunch of scentless, waxy roses shipped on ice from Colombia, grown by underpaid, oversprayed workers, petals invisibly dripping with fossil fuel. Not after the hardy, stemmy blooms growing along the edges of compost piles in Ohio, brightening an ugly apartment with their orange and magenta attitudes. Not after the wildflowers hiding under fern fronds, found secrets in the pine woods of Georgia, prizes to be left growing for others to find among fiddleheads. And not after this farmer’s market in Montana, realm of the flower man, who packs away his living wares when the morning’s over, but leaves behind bursts of color on the windowsills and nightstands and kitchen counters of city people.
Oh, two random acts of kindness. I hand him the dollar, thank him, take the flowers. They’re so fresh and real that bees follow me home, circling, wanting to taste. I nest the bouquet in an old beer bottle full of pure water and would stare at the pink and lavender stems and yellow leaves all afternoon if I didn’t have a job to get to.
The hours bring distraction, and by the time I return, a storm has blown through the valley and gone. It soaked my customers, blew the automatic doors off the hinges, ripped the sales flyers off their racks… and funneled through the little kitchen window, overturning the bottle of precious weeds. A puddle on the floor, dry flowers, the three long necks broken. Sopping the mess, finding a tiny jar for the cut-off necks — they are hardy after all, and go right on blooming even after being thus abused — I realize I’d forgotten all about the two kindnesses. Is there not more time to be good, to prove that weeds too are holy?